Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

They Lived for Their Country Section 60 at Arlington Is Not the Saddest Acre in America

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

They Lived for Their Country Section 60 at Arlington Is Not the Saddest Acre in America

Article excerpt

I go to Arlington National Cemetery to listen. I hear the crackling of calm voices giving situation reports over the radio. I hear the terrifying explosions and the twisting of metal. I hear the laughter and the soldier's wry, irreverent humor. I hear the mother's inconsolable cry. I can hear it all in Section 60, sometimes referred to these days as "the saddest acre in America." Cradled within this soil are hundreds of American men and women who died in voluntary service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I stop first at the grave of Staff Sgt. Jonathan K. Dozier. We served together during my second tour in Iraq. He was one of the most respected noncommissioned officers in our squadron. He died in a flash in January 2008, with six others, in a house that was rigged to explode. Before he died, Sgt. Dozier, 30, wrote to his father, "I am a loyal American soldier. I believe in things larger than myself and making sacrifices for the greater good."

Not far from him is Capt. John Ryan Dennison. Denny was a classmate of mine at West Point. I first saw him in the summer of 2000, during basic training. I remember watching him in formation and admiring his cool confidence, even as an 18-year-old, in a hostile environment. Denny and I became close during plebe year. He approached life with a vigor rarely matched, whether he was competitive sport parachuting or running a 50-mile race.

Denny had read about and admired Capt. Rocky Versace, a Medal of Honor recipient who courageously defied his Vietnamese captors in a prisoner-of-war camp. Capt. Versace, who was from Alexandria, Va., was segregated from his fellow prisoners. The last time they heard his voice, he was singing "God Bless America" at the top of his lungs. Denny once visited the marker at Arlington that honors Capt. Versace, who was executed in Vietnam. When I look at pictures of Capt. Versace and Denny, I can see the same zest and unconquerable soul pouring out of their smiles.

Upon graduation in 2004, Denny married the love of his life, Haley, a fellow classmate. He served in the 82nd Airborne Division during the bloodiest period of the Iraq war as an infantry platoon leader. He was 24 when he was killed in a firefight in 2006. …

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